EVERYONE KNOWS that
John Kerry is ambivalent about the war in
Iraq. In fact, he's so ambivalent that he won't say anything more
definite about whether or not we should have gone to war than that, as
president, he "might" have done so. Nor will he say what his plan
for the future, though he claims to have one. But Kerry doesn't
being thought ambivalent about Iraq. The American people, after
are ambivalent about Iraq, too. But what John Kerry does not want
American people to know is that he is also ambivalent about the war on
terror in general.
Consider his acceptance
speech at the Democratic convention. He
concedes that "we are a nation at war," engaged in a "global war on
terror against an enemy unlike any we have ever known before."
despite the radical dissimilarity of this enemy to previous ones,
here's how Kerry says he will fight this war: "As president, I will
wage this war with the lessons I learned in war." That is, with
lessons he learned in Vietnam.
But Kerry's lessons are
not, strictly speaking, lessons learned in
war. They are instead the conclusions drawn by the antiwar
about American foreign policy in reaction to Vietnam. They
are somewhat less extreme than the critique Kerry presented in his
Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony in April 1971, when he
spoke of the 200,000 Vietnamese a year "murdered" by the United States,
and when he said he had seen "America lose its sense of
it is clear Kerry sees today's war on terror through the lens of the
antiwar movement he helped to lead three decades ago upon his return
"Lesson one" in Kerry's
speech, therefore, is that a "real and
imminent" threat is "the only justification for going to war."
Presumably there was no such threat in Vietnam--and thus we should not
have fought there. But can we afford to act in the war on terror
when the threat is "imminent"? Is it not necessary to take action
against al Qaeda before it strikes? Kerry's antiwar activism has
shaped his thinking that he doesn't want to confront the fact that
preemptive action may sometimes be necessary in this war.
Now, it is true that
Kerry tries to assure us in his convention
speech that he "will never hesitate to use force when it is
Any attack will be met with a swift and certain response." But
does it say about a presidential candidate when he thinks it a show of
strength to insist that he would actually respond to an attack on the
suggested on CNN last week (in the spirit of the
antiwar movement) that attacking terrorists can result in "actually
encouraging the recruitment of terrorists." One wonders whether a
President Kerry wouldn't find reasons to hesitate in prosecuting the
war on terror.
Or consider Kerry's
remark that "we need to rebuild our alliances,
so we can get the terrorists before they get us." Do we really
wait to "get the terrorists" until our alliances are rebuilt (whatever
that means)? Indeed, what terrorists aren't we "getting" because
alleged problems with allies right now? And what of Kerry's
last December that he would treat the United Nations as a "full
partner" in the war on terror? Again, Kerry shows little evidence of
having thought at all seriously about the nature of today's war on
terror, and its implications for the use of force, for the limitations
of international institutions, and the like.
And consider this:
"Today, our national security begins with
homeland security." Doesn't it rather end with homeland
Surely our national security begins with dealing with terrorists far
away, in their recruitment centers and training camps, and in dealing
with the regimes that harbor, sponsor, and fund them. But that
suggest reflecting on the lessons of our inaction during the 1990s
vis-à-vis Afghanistan, and on what Bush did after 9/11.
But the words
Afghanistan, Taliban, al Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden are nowhere to be
found in Kerry's convention speech. For President Bush, 9/11 is
fundamental. For Kerry, Vietnam is decisive.
truth is this: John Kerry began his political career as an
antiwar activist. He remained one through his Senate career,
President Reagan's efforts in Central America and the first Gulf War
under the first President Bush. And at heart he remains one
Kerry claims he wants to fight the war on terror. But in key
he still sounds more like a protester against, than a prosecutor of,
the war on terror.